Family of dead Palestinian activist Nizar Banat to submit claim against PA to ICC

The case, which The Hague-based court is not obliged to take, accuses 7 Palestinian officials of responsibility for killing PA critic while in police custody

Maryam Banat, 67, mother of Palestinian Authority outspoken critic Nizar Banat holds a poster with his picture while attending a rally protesting his death, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Saturday, July 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
Maryam Banat, 67, mother of Palestinian Authority outspoken critic Nizar Banat holds a poster with his picture while attending a rally protesting his death, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Saturday, July 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

The family of Palestinian activist Nizar Banat will submit a case Thursday to the International Criminal Court accusing top Palestinian officials over his death in custody, relatives told AFP.

Banat, a leading critic of the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas, died in June 2021 after being dragged from his home in the West Bank by PA security forces.

A post-mortem found he had been beaten on the head, chest, neck, legs and hands, with less than an hour elapsing between his arrest and his death.

“We demand justice for a man who was doing nothing but speaking the truth to power,” said the family’s lawyer Hakan Camuz.

Any person or group can file a complaint to The Hague-based ICC prosecutor for investigation, but the court is not obliged to take them on.

The case to be lodged at ICC accuses seven Palestinian officials of responsibility for Banat’s death.

Nizar Banat, an outspoken critic of the Palestinian Authority, speaks to journalists at the family house, in the West Bank city of Hebron, May 4, 2021. (AP/Nasser Nasser)

The decision to take the case to the ICC comes after 14 members of the Palestinian security forces were released on bail, pending their military trial in the West Bank over Banat’s death.

The activist’s brother, Ghassan Banat, said their release earlier this year left him believing “there is no justice enforcement.”

Related: A year on, Nizar Banat’s killing sheds light on PA corruption, but justice is on hold

“At that time, we understood that the regime of the Palestinian Authority, the police, the security officers, have more authority than the court, that they were above the court,” he said.

“That is why we have decided to move on to the international arena.”

Palestinians suspect officials

The move marks the first time a Palestinian will lodge a complaint at the ICC against another Palestinian, according to the family’s lawyer.

Banat’s death sparked rare protests in Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian Authority, with demonstrators shouting “Justice for Nizar” and pressing Abbas to quit.

Angry demonstrators set fires, block the streets of the city center and clash with riot police following the death of Nizar Banat, an outspoken critic of the Palestinian Authority, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Thursday, June 24, 2021. (AP/Nasser Nasser)

A poll last year by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found 63 percent of Palestinians believe Banat’s death was “a deliberate measure ordered by the PA political or security leaders.”

The dissident’s brother said he was killed when he “challenged Mahmoud Abbas and was telling people the truth about the real situation of the Palestinian Authority.”

Abbas has held office since 2005 and last year canceled long-delayed elections.

The step by the Banat family follows the Al Jazeera broadcaster taking a case to the ICC last week over its slain reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, arguing she was deliberately shot dead by Israeli forces.

Palestinian security forces block a road during a demonstration in the city of Ramallah in the West Bank, on June 26, 2021, protesting the death of human rights activist Nizar Banat while in the custody of Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Abu Akleh was killed in May while covering a firefight between the IDF and Palestinian gunmen that broke out during an Israeli military raid in the northern West Bank city of Jenin.

Israel is not an ICC member, disputes the court’s jurisdiction and denies intentionally targeting Abu Akleh.

More broadly, the court’s chief prosecutor announced last year that she has opened a full investigation into the actions of all parties in the 2014 Gaza war as well as other incidents such as the killing by Israeli forces of protesters in the coastal enclave.

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